Baylor University leaders set a lofty goal 15 years ago of housing half the school’s students on campus by 2012. Though the benchmark hasn’t been met, school officials still see value in keeping students close.

“The more we can keep them on campus, or keep them close to campus, the better it is for the climate we have here,” Baylor President Linda Livingstone said this week while helping some of the 3,300 incoming freshmen move into their dorms. Fall semester classes start Monday.

All freshmen are required to live in university housing, and 33.5 percent of Baylor’s almost 17,000 students now live on campus.

“We would like to house more students on campus,” said Jeff Doyle, dean for student learning and engagement. “We got about 40 percent in the fall of 2013, but Baylor has become so popular in the last five years that our incoming class size has grown much more than we projected.”

In 2013, Baylor regents approved a plan to refurbish 10 dorms. Work on South Russell, North Russell, Penland and Martin have been completed since then, at a cost of almost $60 million. Baylor has 14 residential facilities, including off-campus apartments operated by the university.

After a two-year pause, Baylor will refurbish Collins Hall, Memorial Hall, Alexander Hall, Allen Hall, Dawson Hall and Kokernot Hall over the next several years.

After a $12 million renovation, Martin Hall was unveiled to students this week. It is the school’s last all-male dorm and will house 260 students, about 50 fewer than before the renovation. The renovation includes updated rooms with new furniture and lighting, a reflection room, an improved lobby, a community kitchen and renovated bathrooms.

A faculty member lives at each of the 14 facilities. A recent opening attracted 11 faculty applicants, officials said.

“When students live on campus they have a greater opportunity to experience what a college offers,” Doyle said.

Investments in the dorms have focused on spaces that encourage academic and community engagement, not “gaming rooms,” he said.

Doyle said Baylor officials don’t see unaffiliated off-campus apartment complexes as competition, partly because university housing offers a “different product” with fewer amenities.

“The (off-campus complexes) are competing mainly with each other,” he said. “In my opinion, they slightly overbuilt. I don’t want them to fail, but they’ve built way more beds than Baylor has grown.”

Phillip has covered higher education for the Tribune-Herald since November 2015.

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